Ashley Paul has relaunched her tiny hand-made label Wagtail Records and in August this year she had a table at the Peckham Independent Label Fair exhibiting with other boutique micro-labels who are likewise releasing exciting stuff in unusual packages. In February this year she sent us a copy of release #4, a cassette by Ben Pritchard called A Drawn Out Line (WAGTAIL 004). Very much a personal artistic statement, this record is just steeped in its own modesty…small edition, delicate packaging, and with a recording quality that, while clear and uncluttered, doesn’t waste money on unnecessary production values. As for Pritchard himself, he plays a mean abstract acoustic guitar, but does so in a manner that suggests he doesn’t expect anyone to be actually listening. I’d love to see his hands at work…I’m sure the sight would give Andy Summers a fit of apoplexy. And just wait till you hear his songs, offered up with a diffident and tentative singing voice lost swimming around the rocks of his own sad and mysterious symbols. We might almost call him the lost connection between Derek Bailey and Leonard Cohen. If it sounds so far like I’m describing the very embodiment of an introverted bedroom guitarist, then frankly that’s all to the good. I think the world needs more introverts. We’ve already got far too many extroverts, especially in music, many of them pushing their lack of talent and ability in your face while they try to get by on sheer bravado.
Getting back to Ben Pritchard, it seems his acoustic guitar is “prepared” in some way, and it could be he’s applied some interesting muffling devices to the strings, but he gets some fascinating percussive effects in between his insistent strumming method and his wayward sliding solos. Fans of Robert Johnson or any blues guitarist who projects an instant impression of playing two guitars at once 1 may want to investigate using their blue ears, although the abstraction and strange language inherent in Pritchard’s unusual playing may not appeal immediately. Personally I think it’s wonderful, fragile and ethereal, and at times veers close to the first faltering indications of someone living in a private world, and trying to describe what it’s like. This kind of creative solipsism has, I suggest, been the ideal of any post-Jandek musician who fancies himself an “outsider” just because he or she experiences occasional feelings of disaffection when they’re standing in the bus queue, but I’m prepared to believe Pritchard is the real deal, a convincing creator who keeps pushing away at his themes even if it’s not entirely clear to him where they are leading, or what they mean. Rugged and raw art-creation at its most uncooked. I can see why Ashley Paul likes his work, and she contributes clarinet to one of the songs too. Lovely limited item with hand-made artworks, recommended. From 26 February 2015.
- I have in mind the famous Keith Richards anecdote here. ↩